Ballot Measure 114, meant to tighten gun laws in the state, was approved by voters in November but has been held up in courts ever since. With four lawsuits pending in federal court and a fifth in state court, Measure 114 has been blocked by a preliminary injunction put in place by a state circuit court judge in Harney County.
OPB Host Tiffany Camhi spoke with policing reporter, Jonathan Levinson, about where things stand.
Tiffany Camhi: What was the measure supposed to do?
Jonathan Levinson: The measure does three things if courts allow it to take effect:
It creates a permit to purchase requirement. That means anyone who wants to buy a firearm in the state will need to pass a background check and take a firearms safety course first. Part of that course requires applicants to demonstrate they know how to safely load, fire and store a firearm.
The ballot measure also banned magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. There are exceptions for military and law enforcement and it’s not retroactive so people can legally keep magazines owned before the law takes effect but there will be restrictions on where they can use those magazines.
And finally, the law would close what’s known as the Charleston Loophole. Federal law says if a background check for a firearms purchase or transfer isn’t complete after three days, the sale or transfer can still be completed.
It’s called the Charleston Loophole because it was how a white man in Charleston, South Carolina, was able to buy a gun in 2015 before going on a racist killing spree. He murdered nine people at the historically Black Mother Emanuel Church.
People buying firearms in the state still need to submit to a background check but the law says a sale can go through after three days. Closing that loophole would mean it doesn’t matter how long the background check takes, it must be completed before a sale can go forward.
Camhi: But none of those voter-approved new laws have taken effect?
Levinson: That’s right. As of now all the provisions are blocked by a Harney County Circuit Court until a full trial can be held on their constitutionality.
The permit to purchase system is still being stood up by the state. After the measure passed in November, officials had one month to put a fairly substantial administrative process in place so it was hard for the judge to rule on claims it was unconstitutional.
Harney County Judge Robert Raschio said he will review the permit system once the state says it’s ready.
As for the magazine ban, the judge said the group bringing the lawsuit was likely to succeed in court and that there was irreparable harm to constitutional rights if he allowed it to take effect. Raschio said magazines are indistinguishable from firearms, something akin to trying to separate a car from its engine, he said.
On Tuesday, Raschio blocked the new stricter background check provision from taking effect. In that decision he said the way the measure is written, the background check provision is too intertwined with the permit to purchase provision and that he would need to drill down into sentences and separate out portions at commas.
Camhi: What about the federal lawsuits. Do those have anything to do with the law being blocked?
Levinson: No. There are several challenges to the measure making their way through the courts. There is the state court challenge we just talked about, which is arguing the law violates the state constitution. And then there are four challenges in federal court arguing the law violates the U.S. Constitution, the second amendment right to bear arms.
But the federal judge hearing those cases actually said the law can go into effect while a full trial is held so as far as the federal courts are concerned, this law can take effect.
The one stipulation to that is the permit to purchase requirement which, like in state court, the federal judge said she would give the state time to get that up and running. She initially allowed 30 days but that was extended after the state agreed it needed more time.
Camhi: Is any of this final? Has the measure been determined to be unconstitutional?
Levinson: No, it’s far from final. This is going to be a long drawn out court battle. In the federal case, three days of oral arguments are scheduled for the end of February which will be to decide if the judge will order a preliminary injunction, blocking the law pending a full trial.
In the state case, a hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet but the Oregon Department of Justice has already said they are asking the state supreme court to review the lower court’s ruling.
And something similar is likely to happen in the federal case. No matter what the judge decides, her decision will likely be appealed to higher courts… that would be the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and, potentially, the U.S. Supreme Court.
So as things stand, Oregon gun laws have not changed, but as we’ve been saying since November, stand by.